Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Elections, Greek austerity, MI6, Chinese cyber-spies, Dracula

November 6, 2012
November 6, 2012

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

US election day has finally arrived. Voters across the country will cast ballots starting early in the American morning and until 8pm Pacific time (4am on Nov. 8, London time). Pre-election maps and polls leaned towards a slim victory for incumbent Barack Obama. Republican challenger Mitt Romney suggested earlier this year that financial markets would sink if investors thought Obama would win. However, John Stoltzfus, at Oppenheimer Investment Strategy and Research, writes, “The market will soon be free from the impediments of election uncertainty… We expect a relief rally could develop after the election to celebrate the outcome of the election regardless of which party wins.”

Greek workers protest austerity—again. Greek public-sector workers will start a 48-hour general strike in Athens today, raging against a €13.5 billion ($17.3 billion) package of austerity cuts on which parliament is due to vote on Nov. 7. The reforms could cut their pensions by 15%, chop retirement bonuses by 83%, and raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. The strikers will likely be joined by private sector workers struggling to make ends meet as the country gears up for a sixth year of recession in 2013.

France tries to get competitive. French President François Hollande’s administration will formally respond to a report that criticized the country’s lack of competitiveness. The report (French), led by former EADS chief Louis Gallois, urges France to reform labor markets in order to keep pace with successful Germany and rapidly reforming Italy. A report by the IMF seconded those concerns.

Puerto Rico tries to decide what it wants to be. Does the US Commonwealth in the Caribbean want to be an American state, totally independent, or something in-between? As Americans go to the polls today to choose their leader, Puerto Ricans, for the fourth time in 45 years, are trying to choose their destiny.

Did Bo Xilai’s wife (or someone else) murder an MI6 informant? The Wall Street Journal reports that Neil Heywood, the British consultant who died a year ago in mysterious circumstances in Chongqing, was passing information to Britain’s secret service. Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, was convicted of Heywood’s murder in a dubious trial. Back in March, the Journal reported that Heywood was working for a British private intelligence firm, Hakluyt. Other reports suggested he was a so-called “white glove“, who helped rich Chinese politicians and their families move money out of China.

While you were sleeping

Is Apple’s tablet dominance waning? The tech giant’s share of the global tablet market has fallen from nearly two-thirds to one half in the past six months, as its iconic iPad now faces competition from new Android and Windows devices—not to mention Nooks and Kindles. This increases pressure on the new iPad Mini, launched last month, to do well. So far so good—Apple says it sold three million iPads in the three days after the Mini hit the shelves, though it’s unclear how many were Minis.

A Michigan couple stole $40 million in trade secrets from GM, the US government alleges. Ex-General Motors engineer Shanshan Du has been accused of copying proprietary documents and passing them to her husband, Yu Qin. According to prosecutors, Qin tried to use the trade secrets—worth $40 million—to form business ventures with GM’s competitors. The couple has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

And Chinese spies are stealing secrets from the US military, a congressional panel claims. Chinese intelligence agencies and hackers use increasingly sophisticated techniques to access US military computers, according to the draft of an annual report mandated by Congress. The report said Chinese agencies are “relentless” in their efforts to “blind or disrupt U.S. intelligence and communications satellites, weapons targeting systems, and navigation computers.” This comes not long after the House Intelligence Committee accused Chinese network companies Huawei and ZTE of threatening US interests.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve Levine on how Sandy undermined the case for American energy independence: “In the US, both major political parties have more or less fixed on the idea of making North America an independent energy island that would satisfy all its own oil and gas needs, and export what it feels like to the rest of the world. The notion is that the US will be far less vulnerable to chaos abroad if its fuel logistics system is self-contained within the country. That is, you can have both—independence, and the ability to tap into foreign markets in a pinch. The problem with that argument is that logistics systems are built and optimized methodically and over time. In a competitive crisis in which numerous nations are after the same fuel, it would be high risk to rely on the ability to jump into the market and satisfy the fuel needs, say, of the entire US East Coast.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Donald Trump’s hair, Rick Perry doing the butter churn, or Michele Bachman chowing down on a huge corn dog? What were the best images of the entire presidential campaign?

Japan’s giants are stumbling. Can they survive? They are facing the same deterioration in core markets as their American challengers faced 20-30 years ago.

Bank mergers during the financial crisis may not make sense in retrospect. Then again, maybe some of them do.

Intel’s chips are losing relevance. The chips that power the iPad and iPhone may soon be good enough for desktop computers. Intel will find that difficult to process.

Apple is sore loser.

Surprising discoveries

Indian troops have spotted over 100 UFOs near the Chinese border in the last three months. The unidentified flying objects—yellowish spheres—apparently lift off the Chinese side of the border, hover in the air for three to five hours, then disappear.

Britain’s Prince Charles could count Vlad the Impaler as an ancestor. At least, that is what the Romanians say. Though it is unlikely that Vlad, who inspired the Count Dracula legend, made organic jam.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, queries, suggestions, UFO sightings, or election confessions to hi@qz.com.

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